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Symbols of Madness
Symbols of Madness
Like all of Poe’s short stories, single effect was the most important
characteristic in “The Black Cat.” Poe tried to achieve the effect of
appaling madness. In this first person narrative the narrator takes you through
the tranformation from sanity to madness, all because of an obsession with two
black cats. Durring this transformation he takes the life of his wife, whose
death he unsuccessfully tries to conceal. Using description of setting,
symbolism, plot development, and detailed character development, Poe was able to
attain the effect he was looking for.
Unlike most short stories, the setting is the weakest element of the story.
This story could have occured in any town or anyplace. On the other hand,
symbolism is a major part of this story. Most of these symbols are obvious but
there are some only Poe himself knows. The first symbolic refrence is the cat’s
name, Pluto. This is the Greek God of the underworld. Another symbolic part of
“The Black Cat” is the title itself, since black cats have long been known
for bad luck.
Poe’s plot development added much of the effect of shocking insanity to “The
Black Cat.” His complicated plot of alcoholism, murders, fire, revival, and
punishment is quite astonishing. This story has almost any plot element you can
imagine a horror story containing. The words in this short story were precisely
chosen to contribute to his effect of shock. Another way that Poe used word
choice was with synonms. The cat was not only the cat; it was the “playmate,”(Poe103)
the “brute,”(Poe106) and the “monster”(Poe107).
Character development was most important to Poe’s effect of madness in “The
Black Cat.” Without the perversely insane narrator this story can not exist,
let alone put acroos an effect. It is mentioned many times that he “was
especially fond of animals”(Poe103) and that he was a lot of the time “much
intoxicated“(Poe103). In fact many of his rages were causes more by alchol
rather than the black cat. The cat(s) was also vivdly developed. At one point
early in the story, the narrator spends two paragraphs describing his then
delightful pet as being “remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely
black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree“(Poe103). But as the story
progresses both characters change dramatically. The cat is dynamic in that it is
hung, reappears with a “mark of white hair”(Poe106) on its chest, and has a
different disposition than before. The narrator spirals out of control into fits
of rage and numerous unthinkable actions, commencing with the walling up of his
own wife and beknownst to him the black cat too, in the cellar.
Obviously, the setting, symbolism, plot, word choice, and character
development contributed greatly to the effect of shocking madness in “The
Black Cat.” Without these, there would be no story at all. Poe’s skillful
use of all of these elements creates a shocking tale, which leaves the mind to
ponder in all its horror.
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The Black Cat, Black cat, Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Allan Poe in television and film
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